Bristol, Va. city leaders frustrated to learn about additional $2 million budget shortfall


Tempers flared at the Bristol, Virginia City Council meeting over more money problems. A new estimate revealed another budget shortfall - this time of nearly two million dollars.

On Tuesday night, the commissioner of revenue revealed this shortfall is from re-assessed property tax values that are lower than projected.

Commissioner of Revenue Terry Frye said much of that loss is from commercial properties like the Bristol Mall and businesses at the Falls, losing their value.

City Councilmen asked why he didn't see this coming. But Frye said there was nothing else he could have done. Some city leaders are calling for the resignation of Frye.

"I think the commissioner of revenue has not done his job," councilman Kevin Mumpower said. "I've asked on multiple occasions for the revenue projections via email."

At the city council meeting, Frye said an appeals process revealed some property tax values were too high. That means the city over-estimated how much revenue it would bring in. It originally estimated it would generate $12.1 million in real estate tax. After the appeals, that number dropped to $10.3 million.

"We've had three to four times as many appeals this year as we've ever had," Frye said.

Frye said commercial property taxes took the hardest hit.

In 2016, the Lowes at the Falls was valued at $14 million. This year, that dropped to $10.1 million. Cabela's was valued at $12.3 million in 2016. Now, it's valued at $10.1 million.

The biggest drop came from the Bristol Mall which decreased in value $15 million. In 2016, it was valued at $16 million. This year - just $1 million.

"It's definitely sobering - something we'll have to sit down and work through," Mayor Bill Hartley said. "It takes a difficult situation and makes it harder now."

And city leaders are asking why they're just finding out about this now.

"I'm kind of done with the excuses, the city can't afford that kind of effort," Mumpower said.

"It's almost like going back and starting over," the mayor added.

The city is already dealing with an expected nearly $5 million deficit for this budget yet. And city leaders aren't sure they can bear any more.

"There's a few places here and there but a number that big - that's staffing cuts," Mumpower said. "That's huge amounts of organizational staffing cuts."

But Frye said he couldn't have gotten those numbers back from the appeals courts any sooner.

"This city has become very divided, and council meetings have been very divisive," Frye said. "It's not the kind of atmosphere I think that's positive to encourage businesses to locate here."

And he wants city leaders to focus on finding a solution, rather than attacking him. "The idea that I don't care about people losing their jobs is absolutely wrong. Absolutely," Frye said. "I care deeply. These are my friends, people I love."

Mayor Hartley added they will start looking at other ways to make up the loss. Budget talks continue, Thursday morning.

As for Frye, he said his term as the commissioner of revenue is up at the end of the year. He does not plan to run for re-election.